While many pregnancy side-effects are short term— like morning sickness that lasts all day, heartburn that lasts all night, postpartum hair loss or the inability to hold in your pee after a light sneeze— others are long-lasting, or even with us, well, forever.
Some of the most pesky and common pregnancy hold-overs, that last well after your baby makes their big debut are skin-issues— usually in the form of stretch marks or hyperpigmentation (aka melasma). They are two top complaints among new moms chatting on Peanut, the app which connects like-minded women throughout fertility, pregnancy and motherhood.
Hyperpigmentation, which causes dark, blotchy patches on the skin, is a result of the hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy, and it usually appears in patches, as opposed to random spots, on the face, explains Dendy Engelman, M.D., New York City-based cosmetic dermatologist.
Stretch marks are also hormone-related, and they also happen when our skin stretches (or shrinks) in a short amount of time. They can happen to non-pregnant folk too—from growth spurts or weight gain/loss. “When stretch marks are forming initially, collagen, which is responsible for the structure of our skin, becomes thickened and then heals with an abnormal pattern,” explains Papri Sarkar, M.D., a dermatologist in Brookline, Massachusetts. “In addition, elastin, which is responsible for the ability of our skin to snap back to shape, is decreased.” The result? Lovingly loose skin that starts out red or purple and then gradually fades to whitish lines that are sunken into the skin.
The good news about hyperpigmentation and stretch marks? They both get better over time. And, in the interim, there are some really great products out there that can help them fade faster. Here are some of the products dermatologists recommend to their patients to tackle stretch marks and hyperpigmentation.
Best Products to Fight Stretch Marks:
This oil has become a cult classic for stretch mark prevention and treatment—and it’s clear to see based on their 4.5-star rating and 8,500+ reviews on Amazon. It’s clinically proven to help repair skin damage caused from pregnancy, surgery, aging, C-sections and more. While there are plenty of creams on the market that also target stretch marks, there’s just something about an oil that adds that soothing element that moms-to-be and, let’s face it, all of us can appreciate. During her pregnancy, Dr. Engelman used Bio-Oil all over her body to help prevent stretch marks. “I love oils to hydrate the skin—they penetrate deeply in the skin and hydrate beautifully without leaving a greasy feel,” she says. Although it’s a bit pricier than other oils on the market that promise to reduce or prevent stretch marks, a little goes a long way. Just one container should last you the bulk of your pregnancy
Because stretch marks are, in many ways, scar tissue, applying a thick emollient on them can lead to some improvement, according to Erum Ilyas, M.D., a dermatologist at Montgomery Dermatology in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. “Stretch marks happen when the skin expands faster than it can keep up with, leading to an inflammatory response that causes redness before turning lighter in the healing phase,” she says. “Routinely massaging cocoa butter into the skin preventatively (i.e. before stretch marks actually appear) may help the skin expand with less inflammation making the stretch marks less apparent.” This product also contains vitamin E, which add some antioxidant properties to also help alleviate some of the redness. One mama from Peanut shared, “I used the cocoa butter for both my pregnancies before and after baby and zero stretch marks!! I’m on my third pregnancy now and I am using it again, however it could be good genes.”
In addition to vitamin E and jojoba butters, the key ingredient in this belly butter made by mom-trusted brand Burt’s Bees is shea butter, which is not only extremely hydrating, but it also has the power to reduce the appearance of stretch marks. “Since there is little that a cream can do to actually treat the scars, using hydrating products to improve the turgor of the skin within the stretched skin and improve the overall appearance of the skin,” says Dr. Ilyas. “It reduces the crepe-like or tissue paper like wrinkling of the skin overlying a stretch mark.” A few other well-appreciated features of Burt’s Bees skin care line is that they’re 99 percent natural and non-irritating—meaning no harmful chemicals in any of their products, including parabens, phthalates, petrolatum or SLS. This belly butter is also unscented, so you can feel totally confident slathering it all over your pregnant (or postpartum) body.
Retinol is a go-to ingredient for improving the appearance of lines and wrinkles because it helps stimulate collagen, but for the very same reason, it can help treat stretch marks, according to Joshua Zeichner, M.D., the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. In addition to retinol, the key ingredients in this product are hyaluronic acid, an ultra-hydrating ingredient that can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water as well as a skin-strengthening glucose complex. “By strengthening the foundation of the skin, Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Serum can make stretch marks look less apparent,” says Dr. Zeichner. One reviewer even noted that this product helped reduce the appearance of brown spots on their face. It is important to note that, because this product contains retinol, it is not meant for use during pregnancy, or while breastfeeding.
Best Products to Fight Hyperpigmentation:
This product has become a cult classic for acne-prone and fine-line-appearing folks for some time now. It contains a type of retinoids that you can purchase over the counter, as opposed to prescription, and it can be particularly helpful when treating hyperpigmentation and stretch marks. “By blocking the enzyme that is responsible for pigment (melanin) production, called tyrosinase, retinoids are helpful in the treatment and prevention of hyperpigmentation,” says Rina Allawh, M.D., a dermatologist at Montgomery Dermatology in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. She recommends using a pea-sized amount of this product to the entire face 2-3 times weekly, first at bedtime and then, if not too drying, increasing to nightly as tolerated. It’s oil-free, fragrance-free and not greasy at all. In fact, it has more of a gel-like texture that the skin is quick to absorb. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, you should ask your doctor before use, as it’s likely that they will recommend that you wait.
“This serum contains an effective mix of hyperpigmentation correctors including kojic acid, tranexamic acid and nicotinamide in a gentle formula,” says Blair Murphy-Rose, M.D., dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology Manhattan & Hampton Bays and Clinical Assistant Professor at New York Presbyterian Hospital – Cornell. Tranexamic acid helps reduce the appearance of stubborn brown patches while kojic acid helps improve skin brightness. She recommends this serum for anyone suffering from hyperpigmentation as well as those who have sensitive skin and can’t tolerate a topical retinol well (aka they experience pesky side effects like irritation and dry patches. “Anyone hoping to avoid the potential side effects associated with hydroquinone (another potent hyperpigmentation treatment) can also stand to benefit from this serum,” she adds. How to use: apply a few drops 1-2 times daily along with your sunscreen (because, let’s be honest, staying protected from the sun is the #1 way to reduce hyperpigmentation).
This super potent vitamin C serum by Drunk Elephant is one of Dr. Murphy-Rose’s current favorites for hyperpigmentation prevention and treatment. She is a big fan of its skin-evening abilities, how easily it blends on the skin and how light it feels compared to many other vitamin C-containing products. “This is a great product for acne-prone patients with hyperpigmentation because it tends to be less likely to trigger pesky breakouts,” she says. “This serum is also packed with potent topical antioxidants including vitamin C and E and fruit enzymes (pumpkin and pomegranate).” As one Amazon reviewer put it: “My skin tone is more even, and my skin seems more youthful!” Pro tip: Dr. Murphy-Rose recommends storing your vitamin C-containing skin care products in your refrigerator for an extended shelf life and a cooling sensation when you go to apply it (especially helpful in the hot and humid summer months!).
If you’re not a fan of creamier skin care products, this pigment gel is a great facial treatment alternative. It contains 2 percent hydroquinone, which is the highest percentage of hydroquinone available without a prescription, notes Zenovia Gabriel, M.D., a dermatologist based in Newport Beach, California. “Hydroquinone helps brighten dark spots and decreases melanocytes and melanin production, but it cannot be used long term as it can cause skin sensitivity and irritation,” she says. “This gel is also formulated with Azelaic Acid, Alpha Hydroxy Acids, Lactic Acid, and Kojic Acid to target hyperpigmentation, gently exfoliate, and refine your complexion.” It’s not recommended for use during pregnancy, so this is a product you should leave on the shelf until post-delivery (so long as you’re not breastfeeding). Apply in the morning and evening after cleansing. If using during the daytime, Dr. Zenovia recommends following up with a moisturizer and broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30+.
Now that you’ve stocked up on skin care, check out these other mom-approved beauty must haves.